Medium 9781855753686

You and Your Toddler

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A central theme of this book is the gradual process of separation between parents and toddlers and the growth of autonomy in them all. Jenny Stoker has written with clarity, sympathy and warmth about the multiple problems children face in their toddler years and she has addressed the parents with immense empathy. Stoker manages to convey complex concepts and arguments in a lucid and simple style that all readers will find most helpful.'Each of the authors featured has published papers and books for the academic and clinical communities; the present volumes, however, are specifically aimed at parents. The intent is not to convince but to inform the reader. Rather than offering solutions, we are describing, explaining and discussing the problems that parents meet while bringing up their children, from infancy through to adulthood.'We try to provide portraits of the various stages in the child's cognitive, intellectual, and emotional development and how these unfolding stages affect not only the child's experience of himself, but also how he perceives and relates to the world in which he lives. Our hope is that establishing this context will help the parents who read these books to see their child from a different perspective.'- Dr. A. H. Brafman, from his Series Editor's Foreword

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6 Chapters

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1. on the threshold: from your arms to their feet

ePub

Sammy and Katy are typical of toddlers who have just learnt to walk steadily, and their mothers’ responses are also characteristic of parents of young toddlers. Such children, so recently upright and so much more in control of their bodies now than a few weeks before, have been described as being in love with the world. Suddenly, from being helpless babies reliant on their carers to methate between them and their environments, their upright stance allows them the capacity to control their surroundings much better and to manipulate the objects around them They can see the world from all sorts of different angles now: from above and below, upside down and inside out. They appear to spend their lives in continual experimentation. There is a whole new world before them, as they see it with the extra dimensions added. It becomes their oyster. They embrace it with frenetic activity. Much of it resembles scientific experimentation as they concentrate on die impact of their actions and as they explore. Objects are examined for their physical properties—as if the questions the toddler is exploring are: What does this thing do? What shape is it? How does it do it? Does it have an inside and outside? Is it like something I have seen before? What happens when I drop it? The world around them is full of such exciting new objects that they can still get as much pleasure out of the paper that a toy for their first birthday was wrapped in as they do from the toy itself.

 

2. conflicting passions

ePub

In the last chapter we have seen how the 1-year-old both needs his parents and also needs to be able to leave them. We have seen how important it is that they are there in order to be left. The struggle between autonomy from the parents and dependence on them pervades die toddler years, and this intensifies particularly during the second year. As the toddler becomes more aware of his capacity to leave and of die gap that emerges between him and his mother, paradoxically he becomes more aware of his wishes for her. At some point between roughly the ages of 16 months and 3 years, most toddlers will go through a phase of strong feelings of both love and hatred for their parents as they adjust to die fact that they both want and need and do not want to want and need their parents’ presence.

This can make it a very confusing and testing time for parents. Often they are reduced to a position where it seems as if nothing they do is right for their child. This is frequently a correct assessment of the situation. Their child finds himself in an impossible dilemma: to get the level of independence he wants and enjoys, he has to leave die parents and act independently; but if he does that, he fears losing them, which is what he dreads most in the world. So he moves closer to them and then feels he is retreating from die opposing pull for autonomy; so he moves away again. Frequently the result is a tantrum, typical of die phase known as “the terrible twos”. At times it feels to parents as if die swings of mood and need will never end. They cannot give die toddler what he wants at times of such intense conflict.

 

3. learning about their mind and yours

ePub

Being able to monitor our own and other people’s feelings about us is an essential part of our everyday lives. Without this capacity it would be very hard to function in a social world. Your feelings about other people and also your feelings about their feelings about you are essential ingredients in all communication. They are reflected in our body movements as well as in the ways we talk to and about each other. They influence the way we learn, what motivates us, our work, our play, and our friendships. We interact with each other all the time on the basis that we can assume what is going on in another’s mind. We do not always get it right, of course, and that can lead to misunderstandings, but it does not stop us from functioning on the basis that, on die whole, we do have some sense of what others are thinking or feeling. And we acquire that sense from our previous experiences.

Throughout childhood we gradually learn about the important realm of interpreting other people’s thinking and feeling minds and of distinguishing them from their actions and behaviour. In order to do this we have to learn about our own minds too. Such learning is not factual. It is experiential. It takes place in an emotional, feeling context, and it takes place unconsciously. We are not aware that we are doing it. No one can consciously learn these things. They are embedded in our implicit memories, giving us a sense of just being part of what we are.

 

4. play and language

ePub

Your child’s toddler years are characterized by a flowering of his capacity to play and to begin to use language. Playing and language provide a link between you. Both of them are ways for the child to bridge die emerging gap as he acquires the physical capacity to move away from you. But that sense of coming together in mutual understanding through play or language also acts, for die child, as a catalyst for further separation—they are a route for communication and interaction with die outside world.

A child’s ability to play and to talk stems from his being able to symbolize, to make one thing stand for another: a doll represents a baby, a stethoscope a doctor, die word “table” stands for die object table. We can speculate that from his earliest days a baby has been able to conjure up images of things in their absence. When he cried for his mother to feed or comfort him, it is likely that after repeated experiences of relief from die bodily discomfort he began to be able to hold an image of an anticipated response to his cries that is missing until it appears. Babies of quite a young age will often stop crying when they hear the sounds of their feed being prepared or die sound of their mother’s voice. In a sense, these images of what is missing can be thought of as early forms of symbolization, and as time goes on and parents become slightly less adaptive to their baby’s needs, the baby will begin to rely on these images as sources of comfort to fill the gap between his wishes and die satisfaction of those wishes. In some cases he may even create his own physical “symbols” of the experience of his mother’s comfort in her absence by thumb-sucking or finding a piece of soft thaterial to soothe himself. When he plays peek-a-boo, die baby’s pleasure stems from die reappearance of a familiar face that, for that brief moment of absence, he has been able to hold as an image in his mind. What is more, even at this very early age die baby’s delight in this game of predictable, controllable appearance and disappearance would seem to indicate that he at some level “knows” that the repeated disappearances are not for real. If they were, then he would become distressed.

 

5. whose body is it anyway?

ePub

The toddler years are characterized by a huge shift in the child’s relationship to his body, accompanied by much physical activity and exploration. We have seen in chapter 1 how the very young toddler can become utterly absorbed and fascinated by what he can achieve physically. He is propelled by curiosity about both his own and others’ bodies, watching, touching, smelling, and tasting. Such exploration allows him to develop a sense of his own body’s coherence and autonomy, integral to his growing sense of his own identity.

An important part of this development is his capacity to experience sensual feelings. As a baby, his early feeds and general caretaking will have been accompanied by sensations of intensely pleasurable physical satisfaction. To begin with, he will not have been able to identify the distinction between his own and his mother’s body as die source of satisfaction, but as time goes on he will associate those pleasurable sensations with die presence of someone caring for him. As he becomes more physically competent, he will start to explore both her body as well as his own, and in his own body he will find areas and activities that will give him intense pleasure. Sometimes these activities will be recreating the pleasurable sensations he had experienced when being cared for by mother, such as fondling his own hair or stroking his earlobe gently or sucking his thumb, for example, but others are ones he discovers on his own. He may have enjoyed genital sensations during nappy changes and may also touch and play with his genitals as part of his own exploration, finding die experience pleasurable. It is an important aspect of your toddler’s developing sense of pride and confidence that he discovers that his body can be a source of pleasure. He is learning what is his and what is yours. It is good that he can begin to learn that what-is-his and what what-is-his does can be sources of pleasure and that he can derive pride and confidence both from his body and from its functions.

 

6. separations, sleeping, and sibling rivalry toddling no more: the move towards the wider world

ePub

The toddler years are dominated by a gradual process of separation between the child and his parents. We have seen how the struggles over the pull back towards dependence and babyhood and die push forward towards independence dominate the toddler’s (and the parents’!) development in all spheres. Both he and you—his parents—wish for more autonomy, and yet despite this wish, you at times also long for more togetherness and closeness. Negotiating the way between these opposing pulls is one of the most important tasks of these years.

As with feeding, weaning, and potty training, which were the topics of our previous chapter, managing sleeping and separations are at base to do with allowing and encouraging more bodily autonomy in your toddler. And difficulties, particularly with feeding and weaning, often overlap into difficulties with sleeping and separations.

Of course, toddler sleeping problems are very common, and not all can so easily be attributed to parental need for the comfort of a baby. But, nevertheless, there is frequently some guilt on the part of parents about putting their child down to sleep and allowing themselves time to get on with their own lives, separately from their child. It is as if sometimes parents feel that they are abandoning their toddler, when they say goodnight to him, to a terrifying fate. And sometimes dais struggle is about coming to terms with the presence of a third person in a relationship.

 

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